Cultural Christianity and Gospel Clarity
One thing that scares me to no end is cultural Christianity. By cultural Christianity, I mean the kind of Christianity you get when you ask someone what religion they are and they respond with, “Well, I grew up Christian.” In it’s worse forms they might even respond “I’m a Christian”, because they grew up going to church and still do (at least on Christmas and Easter). In the worst forms, they’re still sitting in the pew every Sunday.
Often cultural Christians, though it can be hazy and undefined, have the basic idea that they will get to heaven someday. They see life basically as a scale, and think that being a relatively good person is the way to heaven. Or maybe they don’t have that misconception, but rather think that they’ll repent some day, just not yet. In my experience, that’s a lot of cultural Christianity.
Cultural Christianity is what you get when Christianity in America has declined, but when this has happened recently enough for people to still go to church on Christmas. It’s what you get in thousands of churches where people prayed prayers or walked the aisles at altar calls, and by virtue of that have considered themselves Christians ever since. And it’s not just in liberal churches. No, it has sunk it’s teeth deep into the fiber of much of evangelicalism.
Anyone who has spent much time talking to college freshmen has run across plenty of this. That’s because it’s the perfect time of life for it. Students are old enough to no longer be under their parents supervision, but haven’t yet been out of the home long enough to throw off all the baggage of growing up “Christian”. They might still consider themselves Christians, or they might just see themselves as straying from the church. I know about these people because I was one of them.
Cultural Christianity scares me. It scares me because it is subtle. It scares me because it is slippery and can take any number of forms. But most of all it scares me because it leaves millions of people in it’s wake who might think that they are Christians and who have just enough religion to inoculate them to Jesus.
I bring this up because there are a massive number of reasons for why to be clear on the gospel and conversion, but this is a big one. Just thinking about this while writing this blog post has been helpfully scary for me. Thinking about cultural Christianity reminds me personally how important it is to be clear on the gospel when talking to friends who might be culturally Christian. It is important to tell them of the holiness of God, the utter lost state of man, and the redemption of Christ. It is important to tell them that the forgiveness of Christ is free, and yet it costs a man everything.
We dare not assume that because someone has gone to church they are Christian. We do not judge the eternal state of others, but we do preach the gospel to everyone without distinction, ourselves included. We need to be like Paul, who was eager to preach the cross, eager to preach the gospel, everywhere that he went (1 Cor 2:2, Rom 1:15). We must preach the full message, and must not make smooth the edges that the Lord has made sharp.
“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him…If with the zeal of Methodists we can preach the doctrine of Puritans, a great future is before us. The fire of Wesley, and the fuel of Whitefield, will cause a burning which shall set the forests of error on fire and warm the very soul of this cold earth. We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war…Oh, that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God…Blessed is that ministry of which CHRIST IS ALL.”
-Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, 82-83